Philly Black Pride: Honoring the past by uplifting future generations

The number 25 is written in gold inside a gold ring. Next to it is the words

Philly Black Pride will return to celebrate its 25th anniversary with four days of events to begin on April 25. This year, organizers will honor the past by reflecting on the people and experiences that started its legacy — and a lot has changed since the group was first founded in 1999.

Visit Philly posted a full guide to Black Pride festivities, outlining how to get involved. The weekend will begin a day early with a Thursday night open mic slam featuring spoken word and vocal artists. Throughout the rest of the weekend, attendees can enjoy ceremonies honoring special guests, a retro skating party and nightlife events, live shows — including a ballroom showcase and a live podcast event, a health summit, and more.

“We’re just happy to have made it this far,” said Le Thomas, current president of Philly Black Pride, who said it’s sometimes hard to notice what’s missing until the thing that was needed takes shape.

This is an experience he related to when he first saw the “More Color, More Pride” flag, which was introduced in Philadelphia back in 2017 to intentionally highlight racial diversity in the LGBTQ+ community.

“I had never felt that the Pride flag wasn’t representative of me,” he said, “but when that [new] flag came out, a change happened, and I felt more part of the community at large.”

He and other Black LGBTQ+ people recognize that there’s still a lot to do to ensure people of color are safe and comfortable in broader queer spaces. Racism is a major concern for those who want to spend time in the Gayborhood but don’t feel welcome or affirmed there.

“We’ll take one step forward to mend those relationships then take 10 steps back,” said Robert King Graves, who works in nightlife promotion and community engagement. He feels that many bars in the Gayborhood have shifted focus away from racially diverse and LGBTQ+ clients towards cis-het party-goers instead.

“It doesn’t feel welcoming or inviting to many of us,” said Graves, who noted that there are very few spaces he can go where he feels he can be authentic as a Black, gay man without being judged or viewed as a threat. This, he underlined, is why Black Pride is still so important.

“Those spaces that once opened the doors for us always now only open the doors around Pride in June — when it’s time to make a profit off the Black community,” he underlined. “They’re not consistently inviting us to share that space with them unless there’s something that they can gain from us.”

Graves said this lack of access is one of the reasons he started intentionally cultivating space for Black LGBTQ+ people more than 10 years ago. He’s helped develop opportunities for Black, queer people to “show the work they’re doing — whether it’s in nightlife, music, arts and entertainment, healthcare, community engagement, youth advocacy — to give them their flowers while they’re still alive and to create access for other people to see their peers,” he said.

He appreciates the relationships he and others have developed with allies who desire more inclusive and diverse communities, but he also acknowledges that many people don’t know how to actually make that happen. Graves said it will take ongoing and intentional conversations to truly achieve that goal.

“There’s so much work that has been done over the past 25 years. Being gay in the city of Philadelphia at one time wasn’t as safe. It wasn’t safe for you to be gender nonconforming or nonbinary on the train without being attacked or gay bashed,” said Jacen Bowman, the organization’s vice president, who said the organization has helped move Philadelphia in the right direction.

Bowman explained that this year’s Black Pride offerings are about paying tribute to those who worked to make progress. He noted that the organization is co-producing a podcast featuring conversations between people who experienced Black Pride 25 years ago and those celebrating today.

“We’ll be acknowledging our community legends who have paved the way for us and whose shoulders we stand on,” added Thomas, about this year’s in-person celebrations, which will honor trailblazing pioneers and include a showcase of previous winners of the Philly Black Pride pageant — a former cornerstone of the festivities.

“I’m most excited about the ability to reach back and ask past board members to help and support the 25th anniversary,” said Thomas, who has appreciated their guidance and their excitement to participate. “The organization has survived through many people stepping into the role of president and with the board members who have helped sustain its vision and legacy over the past 25 years.”

He said he’s valued the opportunity to get to know those leaders in a new way — often through the camaraderie of their group chat, where they make a point not to talk about the events and instead check in with each other more personally.

“It’s like family almost,” he underlined. “And when we get together in person, we don’t miss a beat. All the joking and prodding and poking fun — all the love. It just fell into place.”

Thomas has been volunteering for the organization for about 15 years and has seen the events and community evolve throughout that time. He’s proud of the organization’s ability to forge new partnerships, create stronger access to resources for community members, participate in conferences and launch important dialogues, and extend people’s networks.

This is the first year the organization will distribute grants in honor of Michael Hinson, a Black gay leader who passed away in 2022 after years of service to the LGBTQ+ community and the city as a whole. He is remembered for his specific attention to creating spaces for Black LGBTQ+ people that promoted access to resources and community, HIV/AIDS activism, and his diligent advocacy work for unhoused Philadelphians.

“We’re awarding three individuals who display some of Michael Hinson’s attributes in terms of community leadership — people who are engaged in creating awareness and access to resources for Black and Brown folks,” said Thomas.

“Because he’s one of the founding members of Philadelphia Black Pride, we wanted to honor him in a way that was meaningful and tangible and in a way that Michael himself would have done if he was still here and part of the organization,” he added.

Applications will open during Black Pride weekend, and recipients will be awarded during Pride Month. 

Thomas would like to see the organization to empower new leaders who will bring fresh ideas with their unique experiences. He has a strong interest in expanding their focus on wellness — which he defines as physical health, emotional and mental health, and financial stability. 

Bowman hopes to expand the organization’s budget in the future and dreams of being able to offer more grants and scholarships and dreams of new leaders who can bring innovative perspectives about how to help the Black LGBTQ+ community connect with and celebrate each other.

“I just want Black Pride to continue to be a celebration of Black joy — of Black, queer joy,” he said. 

Philly Black Pride begins April 25-28 at various locations. For more information, go to

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